Seattle Ed 2010 Editorial

So our state was not selected by Arne Duncan & co. for his “Race to Privatization and Teacher Demoralization.” (See: “Washington Not a ‘Race to the Top’ Finalist State,” Puget Sound Business Journal.)


That’s right. This is good news.

There are some who are lamenting this “loss” of the RTTT monies, like League of Education Voters’ Chris Korsmo: “Our kids need and deserve a world class education to be competitive in today’s global marketplace. Right now, we’re coming up short.”

But there are others among us who are glad that our state is not going to be strong-armed into adopting discredited, damaging “solutions” for our schools like privatization via charters and the toxic, innovation-crushing  high-stakes testing and punitive “merit pay” which unfairly and narrowly tie teacher evaluations and bonuses to student test scores.

What’s more, the amount of money that the “Race to the Top” kitty represents when divvied up by “winning” states and then by each public ed student is a mere pittance. Less than $100 per student in some cases, and that is a one-time-only payment.

So clearly “Race to the Top” is not really about the money. The money will not make much difference in each public school child’s life.

No, “Race to the Top” is about forcing states and school districts to change their laws and policies in order to push through an agenda that otherwise would likely not get voter or public approval. And why should it? Charters and merit pay, the two key components of “Race to the Top,” have proven to be seriously flawed concepts.

Arne Duncan and friends (Eli Broad, Bill Gates and others) want our state to change its laws and usher in “reforms” that have been discredited and are driven by a business-centric agenda that has no input from the families who are most affected by these “reforms.”

We at Seattle Education 2010 opposed the elements of the recent Senate Bill 6696 that represented Washington State’s attempted capitulation to the misguided and draconian “Race to the Top” agenda.

As I stated before, here’s why:

I believe that the Obama administration’s mandates for “education reform” are heavy- handed, at times downright draconian, and show a complete disregard for local autonomy and disrespect for the profession of teaching. The recent spate of mass firings of teachers and sacrificing of principals in Marysville and Rhode Island and now Tacoma is unconscionable and alarming.

[UPDATE: Add Washington D.C. to that list. School Chancellor Michelle Rhee (former Teach for America corps member and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson apologist) summarily fired 241 teachers earlier this month, supposedly because their students had low test scores.]

Unfortunately, that is where this current form of “education reform” is leading. We all need to stand up and say “No! Washington does not need this kind of destructive ‘reform.'”

This brand of “education reform” also puts a heavy emphasis on high-stakes standardized testing, which is of limited use. Here in Seattle, for example, the district is making children as young as 5 take a computerized test (MAP) three times a year — kids who may not yet know how to read, hold a mouse, and should not be subject to such stress so soon.

Word is, these tests will indeed be used to evaluate teachers, despite how flawed a measure these tests may be.

Studies by esteemed universities, Stanford and Vanderbilt, show that two key components of Education Secretary Duncan’s “Race to the Top” frenzy are seriously flawed and do not amount to positive change. The CREDO report out of Stanford showed that charters perform no better — in fact, most perform worse — than regular public schools.

A recent report by the National Center on Performance Incentives at Vanderbilt University, showed that “merit pay” does not work. It does NOT improve student achievement. Even the Gates Foundation’s latest survey of 40,000 teachers supports this fact.

Please also see: “The Pillars of Education Reform Are Toppling.”

Do those who think Washington State should vie for the RTTT contest realize how little money a RTTT grant amounts to per child? As little as $85 a child. Why should our state be strong-armed into changing its laws and adopting questionable “reforms” just for a one-time cash infusion that really amounts to a mere pittance?

For these reasons, I oppose legislation that is geared toward helping our state achieve dubious and damaging “Race to the Top” goals.

We already have innovative schools and programs in Washington state — the high scoring Nova Project alternative high school and numerous other alternative schools, the popular Aviation High, as well as the top performing, award-winning Accelerated Progress Program in Seattle.

Let us retain our local autonomy and replicate what we know works for us, and not capitulate to demands from the federal government that we embrace two extremely flawed “solutions” — privately run charters and “merit pay” tied to high-stakes standardized testing.

Washington can do better.

–Sue Peters